’Tis a ritual of late summer, fitting somewhere between tossing the last of our CSA-farm kohlrabi into the compost bin and the first pit forming in my stomach when I contemplate the beginning of a new school year — even though my shade hasn’t darkened a classroom door for many a decade.
I refer to my purchase and mirthful reading of the Athlon Sports college football preview magazine, which retails for a cool $11.99. First thing I do is check the forecast for the trio of teams I have pulled for since I first laced up (and tripped over) cleats: Brigham Young (though I am not Mormon), Army (though I am a pacifist) and Notre Dame (though I am a piss-poor Catholic).
Next I pour myself a tumbler of rotgut and settle in with the names, these glorious names. I note that there’s been a slight decline in both white jock C-forenames (Chase, Chance, Colt, Caden, Cody) and apostrophic black jock handles (usually beginning D’).
Though I miss some recent favorites — BYU’s Squally Canada (who hailed from clement California), Kentucky’s Mister Cobble, Liberty quarterback Buckshot Calvert, Stanford’s Jet Toner — I renew acquaintance with a few old friends: Bumper Pool, the Arkansas linebacker, is still decking ball-carriers, as are Auburn’s Smoke Monday and North Carolina’s Storm Duck.
Praise be appellative diversity! Mr Duck is joined this year in the football animal kingdom by Charlotte’s Panda Askew, Eastern Michigan’s Sidy Sow, and Hawk Wimmer of the Air Force Academy. Each had best keep his distance from Appalachian State center Baer Hunter.
Pius Odjugo of Central Michigan sounds too churchy to play defensive tackle, but I am looking forward to the October 30 game pitting Wyoming’s Latrell Bible against San Jose State’s Isaiah Holiness. The University of Washington’s Ulumoo Ale sounds like he’s on tap at a Seattle craft brewery. I don’t suppose Old Dominion fans will shout ‘Oxen free!’ when cornerback Ali Ali is introduced. Iowa State’s Dodge Sauser and Tulane’s Phat Watts sound kinda cool, though I trust Kent State’s Capone Blue was not named after the Chicago tax evader. Texas A&M’s Smart Chibuzo had a mother with the right idea.
Old-school football names usually belong to offensive linemen: Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, Miami of Ohio’s Charlie Nank, Ohio University’s Nick Sink, and Buffalo’s Jack Klenk. I regret to say that I found not a single moniker that echoed great 1960s African American football names: Kobes now far outnumber Willies, Winstons and Warrens.
Now we come to the bad if unsurprising news. State universities, subsidized by and putatively for the benefit of the citizens of their home states, are largely indifferent to place. Kentucky taxpayers may support the University of Louisville, but not a single one of the Cardinals’ 22 new recruits hails from the Bluegrass State. A grand total of one of the Oregon Ducks’ 23 incoming players is an Oregonian. (Admittedly, the school’s athletic department is basically a subsidiary of the sweatshop kingdom of Nike.) Fellow Pac-12 members Arizona and Arizona State each recruited a solitary Arizonan in their 2021 entering classes, and West Virginia University actually has more incoming Scandinavians (two) than sons of the Mountain State (one). Kansas, the lousiest team in any major conference, welcomed just one of its top 20 signees from the Sunflower State. C’mon, Jayhawks: how much worse can the homeboys be?
If you really must root for a Big Ten team, make it the Iowa Hawkeyes, the only school in the conference whose incoming class consists of a majority of homegrown athletes. Lesser-known state schools that also seem to make an effort at signing local boys include Southern Mississippi, the University of Texas at San Antonio, San Jose State and Rutgers.
Only one of the top 10 University of Buffalo freshmen hails from New York State, and he’s not even a Western New Yorker. My wife and I will probably go to a UB game this fall, but we can’t pretend the team has any connection to the surrounding population.
I don’t suppose taxpayers, let alone politicians, are going to complain. Sports fanatics put winning above the players could be Martians for all they care — and those who ignore the game will ignore its erasure of place.
I’m watching local Division III football this fall anyway. The names aren’t as amusing, but the players actually go to class, most are from this area and there are no TV timeouts or three and a half hour games. Still, I’m grateful for Pitt’s Brandon Honorable, Georgia Tech’s Wing Green, and Nevada’s Romeo Daubs. After all, a Power Echols by any other name would not be a North Carolina linebacker.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s October 2021 World edition.